POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2007:
Re-learning How to Pray
Rebuilding the Church, if education fails, the only resort might be prayer
While restoring the structure and grandeur of the city's oldest house of worship might be the most visible, outward sign of local Catholics in action, a more fundamental construction project is also underway that would renovate the way they pray.
It was announced recently by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa that its Bishop Edward J. Slattery has begun what he calls Diocesan Liturgical Institute.
To some Catholics it appears to be a move in a backward direction, to many more, a redundant application of a small Diocese's limited resources.
But as the world's largest Christian organization struggles to finish out the implementation of Vatican Council II's pastoral and liturgical reform some 40 years after the close of that historic conclave, a return to basics seems to have had a stabilizing effect on the Church worldwide.
But relevance has been another issue. Those gifted with spirituality or brought up in a practicing Catholic household typically have no disconnect with "going to Church." Trying to engage the vast majority of nominal Catholics, however, let alone evangelize, are other stories.
More than a decade ago the Diocese of Tulsa invested in a program it called The Pastoral Studies Institute--an aggressive, broad-based campus that offered non-credit and college credit courses in Theology, taught by university professors and adjuncts ranging from parish priests and lay ministers to visiting professors. Course offerings ranged from Old Testament studies to spiritual analyses of Current Film.
The PSI had grown from it's Tulsa-based campus into a Diocesan-wide program of continuing education that also attracted non-Catholic Christians and non-believers alike. Several years ago the program was linked by distance learning technology to include rural parishes that would not otherwise be linked to such educational services.
The program was to have been eliminated for no reason by the bishop last spring, but popular protest among parishes diocesan-wide, forced the Bishop to flip-flop and attempt to salvage the program.
The subsequent firing, without reason, of the popular director of the program, Monica Skrzypczak, also prompted Diocesan staffers and those served by the Pastoral Studies Institute to question the bishop's motives.
Many Catholics here are seriously concerned about the lack of judgment exhibited by Bishop Slattery in these matters and others.
Indeed, as hierarchy continues in a disconnect mode with lay faithful, other questionable pronouncements continue.
In July, Pope Benedict XVI issued an official statement essentially permitting practice of the Latin Mass of pre-Second Vatican Council days, to the approval of many of the more conservative and traditionalist Catholics in the world, of whom Mel Gibson has served as an unwitting and controversial poster boy in recent years because of his much-publicized preference for the older, pre-1962 rite, among various other reasons.
The mission of the Diocesan Liturgical Institute, says Slattery, is to "propound a spirituality of the Church's sacred liturgy."
However, many members of his flock fear that this will translate as a regression to empty ritual and a preoccupation with the Latin Mass, Gregorian Chant, and the like to the exclusion of observances in modern English.
The issue might not seem immediately pertinent to many non-Catholics, but this particular conflict represents the perpetual and universal tension within every religion of balancing modern relevance with ancient teachings and historic traditions.
"It seems to me that promoting the Latin Mass is a subtle indication that we are encouraged to return to the good old days when the 'Church,' the institutional, hierarchical Church, was supposed to be the embodiment of whom we should consider our neighbors . . . in other words, the Protestants, Muslims, Jews, agnostics, atheists and all other creeds were really not part of our exclusive club, and therefore not really 'neighbors' and therefore not really worthy of our love . . . ," wrote one concerned Catholic in a recent letter to the editor of the official newspaper of the Tulsa Diocese, the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic.
"So pardon me if I remain offended by this further slide back in to the abyss," the letter continued.
In a later op-ed piece in the same publication, Slattery wrote, "I want to be very clear that this new institute is not charged with the task of smashing guitars or going from parish to parish to spy out abuses in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Believe me, I have heard all the whispered rumors that this is my nefarious intention. I have had to answer the outraged questions from people convinced that this is my hidden objective."
The churched, the unchurched and the merely curious have found Catholics fascinating for years--for their sinning and well as their sanctity--so this current intra-family spat has not been lost under the radar. Indeed, heightened awareness of the direction of Rome under Benedict has prompted reams of speculation from Time magazine to the New York Times.
Meanwhile, many Catholics participating in the debate see a Diocesan Liturgical Institute at best unnecessary--at worst a slap in the face of authentic, personal prayer.
However, the man charged with carrying out the Bishop's designs told UTW that none of these evaluations could be farther from the truth.
"It is not the purpose of this institute to reinstate the Latin Mass within the diocese--that's not what we're about. It's not aimed at things like that," assured Abbott Marcel Rooney, whom Slattery recently named as president of the Diocese Liturgical Institute.
Previously, Rooney served in Rome as abbot primate of 30,000 Benedictines throughout the globe, and has advised Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI on liturgical matters.
He said the purpose of the new institute is "not to change things; it's to deepen what we already have."
Rather than an empty "going through the motions" and performance of rituals for their own sake, Rooney said the institute is intended to be profoundly relevant by teaching the liturgy as "a way to meet with God" and as an exploration of "how to pray as a community" through the rites.
In practical terms, that amounts to ensuring that clergy are equipped to correctly administer the Church's liturgy, and to offering instruction to laymen and women concerning the history of its development and the practical reasons for its various aspects.
"Some of that means they're going to have to come to appreciate the history of the liturgy, which will include learning about the Latin Mass," Rooney explained.
However, he does not foresee any large movement in Tulsa or elsewhere of reinstating the Latin Mass.
At the time of this writing, the Abbott had only been in town for about six weeks, and so was still getting to know the members of the various Catholic congregations in Tulsa, but said his perception was that much of the outcry against the Bishop's new institute is based on misunderstanding, which is compounded by a misunderstanding of the Pope's recent pronouncement.
Rather than taking advantage of the Pope's purported "promotion of the Latin Mass" by imposing it on the diocese, as some perceive, Rooney explained that the Pope only said the Latin Mass is permitted under certain conditions, which aren't likely to be found in Tulsa.
Those conditions are that significant demand for it exists within a congregation and that there is a priest adequately trained to perform it.
"Most people do not want to pray in a foreign language," he said.
Also, he estimated that there hasn't been an American priest trained to administer the Latin Mass in the 40-some-odd years since the Second Vatican Council established that it would not be the ordinary form of the Mass.
Rather than imposing outdated, empty rituals on an unwilling diocese, Rooney said the purpose of the Liturgical Institute is to "make us more reverent and prayerful--we're not just going through the motions or being entertained."
or being entertained."
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